Mariana by Monica Dickens – a Pursuit of Happiness

4th April, 2017

Mariana by Monica Dickens

A coming of age story set in England and a pursuit of love and happiness.

Review

My first tryst with Monica Dickens was when I happened to find a copy of One Pair of Hands  and the surname Dickens caught my eye. I remember smiling to myself thinking readers might think that she is related to Charles Dickens, later to get my facts straight that she is indeed the great grand daughter of Charles Dickens. I loved One Pair of Hands (which made it to my list of favourite books of 2016), a semi autobiographical story of the time Monica worked as a cook. It gives an honest and extremely funny portrayal of the life ‘upstairs and downstairs’ in an English household.

Mariana, my second by Monica Dickens, is a much loved book and perhaps the one she is quite famous for. It is a delightful and charming coming of age novel set in England in 1930s. I was expecting to read the story of Mariana, only to discover that our heroine is named Mary. Monica Dickens alludes to Tennyson’s poem, both in the title of her book and at several instances in the novel. Once, Mary has to recite the poem Mariana at drama school. Training in a drama school is a passionate dream she had for herself, until she realizes that she is not best suited for it. On another occasion, Mary waits impatiently in a house at Essex for her husband, anxious and in agony, like Tennyson’s Mariana.

Mariana by Monica Dickens

I loved how the writing progresses in the novel. Mary has the innocence of childhood, in her ideals of love and happiness, when we meet her first. She falls in love with her cousin and we smile at her delight of having her first kiss. Every ‘first love’ predictably ends in a bad way and our heroine tries to forget the marital dreams she had woven in her silly mind and decides to go to drama school.

I enjoyed following Mary’s transformation from a naïve child who believes she is engaged to her one true love at the age of twelve, to a young lady eager to bob her hair and be fashionable for the cousin. Later she dives into drama school thinking she will end up being lucky like her uncle and learns the truth about her acting skills the hard way. This was a particularly hilarious episode in the novel. It is when Mary is plucked off to a Parisian life, she understands how much England means to her and she is wiser in making more practical choices. When Mary encounters love the third time, we see her blossoming into a mature lass who meets the guy she can depend on and with whom she wants to spend her life with. Each place that Mary spends time in inculcates in her a strength to face life.

Mariana by Monica Dickens

You get a sense of the place as the novel progresses. Charbury, Mary’s favourite childhood home, is portrayed as the best place on earth, like a comfort blanket for Mary. She later reflects how different the place seems to her as an adult. However she still recalls Charbury and her life there when she is upset and is often reminded of the place by a familiar smell or nostalgic memories. Paris is exotic, wild and amusing. She gets a man who is head over heels in love with her and wants to marry her. Monica puts on her humour cap when she describes his mother “like a raven decked out in its stolen jewels”. But it is when Mary returns to the dreary England after staying in Paris that she feels “…a feeling of damp, fresh security. Everything looked so right and so comfortably unexotic, like a cabbage.” When she is back in England, she gets a sense of ‘home’ that cannot be found anywhere else.

The ending is what makes Mariana so perfect. There is an uncertainty, yet there is a hint of the ending the reader has been praying for, since the first chapter of the book.

Final Verdict :

Mariana is a charming and cosy read. I think it is a perfect book to read before bedtime. The book reminded me a lot of Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and I believe I would have loved Mariana even more if I had read it before that one. Readers who love Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Nancy Mitford’s writing would adore the book.

Title : Mariana
Author : Monica Dickens
Publisher : Persephone Books
Published : 2008 (Originally in 1940)
Language : English
Pages : 377
Rating : 3.5/5

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Mariana (Persephone Classics)
This Post Has 25 Comments
  1. I bought Mariana at Persephone Books when I was in London almost two years ago but I still haven’t read it. I want to. It sounds like the perfect cosy read and I might pick it for the next Dewey’s read-a-thon since last year I read Someone at a Distance for the readathon and I loved the experience and since both are Persophone… might just finally give it a go

    1. I think Mariana would be perfect for Dewey’s 24-hour readathon. It is very cosy and definitely a nice one to read inbetween other books. I think there is a readathon coming up in April, am I right?

  2. I wondered if she was related to Charles Dickens as soon as I saw her name as well. I’m so glad you found the answer to that question. This sounds like an intriguing read, although I think I may try One Pair of Hands instead as that one sounds wonderful!

  3. This book has been on my wishlist for quite a while. I really must get around to buying it one day. I do love these Persephone covers – in this case it seems to match the story perfectly. Lovely review.

    1. Thank you Jacqui. Mariana is definitely a nice, cosy read. Everyone who has read the book certainly loves it more than I did. I found it similar to the Pursuit of Love which I recently read. But the cozyness factor is spot on. What I liked about Mariana is that it is so realistic. And the ending is so lovely as well

  4. I haven’t read this one, I think, but as always the Persephone edition is absolutely gorgeous and I always need to have tea when I read them! Also, comparisons to Mitford and Dodie Smith…high praise indeed! Perhaps my library will acquire Mariana this year. I’m sure they used to have an old edition that was sorted out but they haven’t gotten the new edition now that there’s renewed interest, sigh!

    1. You are right. The Persphone editions are so gorgeous. I really enjoyed Mariana. But from other reviews, others have enjoyed it much more. So I hope you will love it more than I did when you pick it up

  5. As a girl I loved her World’s End series and I reread them recently and found them just as charming. Your post reminded me that I would like to revist them and I see that, in the interim, the library has culled their copes. Oh, dear. I’ll have to go searching now. My reading of Mariana was perhaps rather unfair as it was on the stack with a lot of contemporary and faster-moving prize-winning novels, and I felt it didn’t charm in the same way as her children’s books did; but in hindsight I really think I was simply expecting it to be something it is not and I should give it another go when I am looking for a softer kind of story to begin with. Her love of “home” does make me want to try again.

    1. I can see what happened with you and Mariana. The book had a similar effect on me. I had too high expectations since everyone raves about the book. Also I had just finished The Pursuit of Love about that time and started seeing so many similarities in both the stories. I really liked the book, Mariana; but I wasn’t blown away by it as I was expecting to be.

  6. I would actually be quite curious to try a novel by the granddaughter of Charles Dickens! I also like that this is a steady paced novel about the pursuit of happiness. I guess that is something we are all looking for, and I wonder how it pans out in this novel.

  7. Wonderful review, Resh! I’m hoping that my copy will arrive right after Easter, can’t wait to make some tea and start reading.

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